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Nothing Phone’s US “beta test” targets people with more money than sense

The Nothing Phone (1) bets the farm that you'll instantly fall in love with this back design. If you don't, there's not much else to see.
Enlarge / The Nothing Phone (1) bets the farm that you’ll instantly fall in love with this back design. If you don’t, there’s not much else to see.


Does anyone remember the “Nothing Phone?”

The awkwardly named “Nothing” is a new smartphone company from OnePlus cofounder Carl Pei, and its first phone, the Nothing Phone 1, launched about half a year ago in Europe, India, and China for 469 euro (about $500). Nothing will now let you buy that phone in the US for $300. The company is calling this a “beta test,” but it doesn’t sound like you’re testing anything other than market interest. The “beta test” label means that buying the phone comes with caveats that make it a pretty terrible deal.

First, a quick recap: The Nothing Phone 1 is a $300 mid-ranger with a Snapdragon 778G+, a 6.55-inch, 2400×1080 120Hz OLED display, a 4500 mAh battery, and a bunch of other specs that fall firmly into the “meh” category. The device has no clear sales pitch for why it’s a good smartphone, with only a few light strips on the back panel to separate it from the crowd. The company hopes the wacky back panel will blow you away.

So about this beta test—for $300, you aren’t actually buying a US-spec phone. Instead, Nothing will send you the production Europe/India/China model, hoping that everything will just work out. You’ll be missing major frequency bands on every carrier, so depending on your location, you might have signal trouble. The phone’s FAQ says 5G is not supported on AT&T or Verizon at all, and it’s only partially supported on T-Mobile with one band. You’re also missing LTE bands on each carrier. Voice over LTE and Wi-Fi won’t work on AT&T, CDMA won’t work on Verizon, and you’ll need to call Verizon and beg the company to add your phone to its IMEI database so it can be activated.

And there’s no warranty. The FAQ notes that there is a 14-day return policy, and then “there’s no after-sales service after this period.” The phone ships in five to seven business days for all 50 states. You’ll also get a Nothing Phone NFT.

The one bit of testing you might do on the phone is with the beta version of Android 13 that it ships with, though you could just as easily test that in Nothing Phone’s official regions of sale. Of course, a beta OS comes with a risk that your phone won’t work correctly. A beta version of Android won’t pass Google’s Play Integrity API (this used to be called “SafetyNet Attestation”), so higher security apps will probably throw error messages and shut down. These are usually apps for banking, tap-and-pay, some games, and DRM-encumbered media apps like Netflix and YouTube.

Even with the discount, paying to “test” a half-broken product is a really tough sell. If you’re just looking for a decent phone at a low price, the Pixel 6a is normally $449, and it’s often on sale for $300 or $350. (The $350 deal is happening right now.) Besides being a lot faster than the Nothing phone, it also comes with some nice-to-have features like Federal Communications Commission certification, the ability to connect to the cellular system, a production OS that can run apps, and a product warranty if something is broken. There’s even an LED flash if you’re really into back panel lights.

Nothing says that the “Nothing Beta Membership program will run until 30 June,” which presumably means the phone will no longer be for sale by then. That’s also when the Nothing Phone 1 will be about a year old. The company says the US is “set to be an important market to us,” so maybe the next model will be properly sold here. It would be nice to have a new smartphone competition in the US, but not like this.

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